I’ve had a sense of déjà vu as the discussion about Mormonism has heated up as of late, with exactly the same dynamic occurring in the last presidential election season. But the discussion this time is more serious.

It’s not just the fact that two Mormons — Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman — are viable presidential candidates. It’s a Broadway musical. It’s more than one successful TV drama. We’re in, we’re coming to say, a “Mormon moment.” Joanna Brooks, giving just one of the many helpful pieces of perspective in this conversation, compares the rise of Mormons in politics and culture to the rise of the Mormon-owned Marriott Hotel chain. A highly disciplined, highly effective frontier culture grows up and migrates back out into centers of power. It’s a classic American story. But there’s also some kind of religious and cultural coming of age here, for Mormons and the rest of us.

I couldn’t have found a better person than Joanna Brooks to shed some distinctively informative, candid, and meaningful light on it all. She’s a literature scholar and a journalist. Her Ask Mormon Girl blog and Twitter feed is a remarkably reflective, compassionate community of questioning with Mormons of many stripes. Joanna BrooksAnd Ask Mormon Girl, as she notes on her website, is housed on the “legendary Feminist Mormon Housewives blog.” That is just one of many things that does not meet the traditional American eye on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — but which we engage through the voice and life of Joanna Brooks.

She grew up, as she tells it for starters, at the southern tip of the “Book of Mormon Belt” — Orange County, California, that is, which I’d associated more vividly with evangelical Christianity. Her father was “bishop” of their congregation several times growing up — a volunteer position that Mitt Romney has also held in his communities across his lifetime. Her mother is a “professional Mormon,” as she affectionately puts it — with, among other things, a serious avocation for genealogy. Joanna Brooks uses words like “rich,” “imaginative”, and “robust” to describe this faith that formed her and that she continues to love.

She has also struggled mightily, suffered disappointment and heartbreak, with this tradition she loves. She became an intellectual and a feminist at Brigham Young University, and then watched the university and the Church for a time condemn and disown the very Mormon mentors who’d inspired her. She was vociferously opposed to the proactive role the LDS Church took in California’s Proposition 8 referendum. But she is a probing force inside the Church’s wrestling with pain and confusion over this issue. Her blog is a model of compassionate presence, both to LGBT Mormons and to parents struggling to reconcile their religious beliefs and their love for their children. She honors the human confusion here that is not exclusive to Mormons and the added complexity that their theology of the family and eternity gives to subjects of marriage and sexuality.

Most of this conversation, though, is not about hot-button issues or presidential politics. It is an informative, energetic, and often moving journey into life on the other side of the American perception that Mormons are weird at best, a cult at worst. Joanna Brooks does not defend her tradition in any simplistic way, but she does make it three-dimensional and far harder to parody. Consider, for example, as she helps us do, the ambivalence and pain that Mormon married couples feel at their church’s legacy of polygamy. Hear her explanation of her sense of the “strangeness” of accusations she’s heard since she was a child, that she — a follower of Jesus Christ, a serious thinker about notions like atonement and grace — is not Christian. On a lighter note, but with just as much illumination for the listener, she is candid and corrective about a lingering obsession out there with ritual Mormon undergarments.

The most classic American story in this Mormon moment, perhaps, is how Joanna Brooks and other faith-filled and “unorthodox” Mormons are claiming their place in the unfolding story of this young frontier tradition. It is evolving from the inside in ways more meaningful, perhaps, than its outer rise to prominence in politics. Maybe in hindsight, we’ll see this Mormon moment as an occasion for this increasingly influential American phenomenon, composed after all of human beings, to become more articulate about itself and more comprehensible to the rest of us in its complexity.

Share Your Reflection



Is there a full interview with her?

As an apostate Mormon I always rejoice when moderate voices within the church are celebrated but this is short lived. There may be members that FEEL differently than the leadership of the church on issues like marriage rights or a modern role for women, but there is a key component to the doctrine that is a huge obstacle to the voice of moderates. That is the doctrine of Prophetic Authority. Where most contemporary Christian faiths (except, to some degree, Catholicism) rely on the flexible and adaptable human interpretation of scripture, at the head of the LDS church is a man who claims to be a Prophet in the OT since of the title. He and the 12 apostles speak directly to and for God. When M. Russell Ballard claimed in general conference that no one was born gay, he was saying that with apostolic authority. The subsequent revision was the final word on the subject but the truth remains. These men (and men only) know the mind of God and so there is no interpretation that is valid but theirs. This severely restricts the church's ability to grow and evolve socially, we have the previous prophets who knew God too and in so doing exposes the greatest weakness to the church - accountability.

Joanna has spoken about the prejudices she faced as a Mormon. Joann made it clear: Religions are not cults; they're about choices. What we do with our lives is up to us. Joanna discussed that. As well as Donny and Marie, Stephanie Meyer and Gladys Knight.  

"Equanimity is a state of mental or emotional stability or composure
arising from a deep awareness and acceptance of the present
All beautiful wonderous cultures tried to stay eustressed and transcended from lower attributes.
The ankh is a cool science. See Legend of Atlantis on Youtube.
Have we been helped? Well how did Babylonian inhabitants know great math?
"The majority of recovered clay tablets date from 1800 to 1600 BC, and cover topics which include fractions, algebra, quadratic and cubic equations and the Pythagorean theorem. The Babylonian tablet YBC 7289 gives an approximation to accurate to five decimal places."-Wikipedia
Ultimately, the Mormons talked about here are religious delusional though. It is therapeutic for kids to be delusional but it also is manipulative. Its wrong in several areas and is misogynist.

It's interesting to me how much of this interview resonated with me as someone who grew up in a conservative evangelical world and saw the closing of any progressive leanings when I was at the university as an English major in the early 90s. As a mainstream Christian, I had an easier out, there were other options; I was able simply--that's a loaded term, only took about 15 years--to switch to a mainline church where I and my ideas were welcomed with open arms. I still have trouble negotiating the past world of friends and family, though, and I, too, married outside the faith. There were many reasons for my choice, but when Brooks said, "I knew I needed a marriage that would keep me safe" I suddenly grasped a truth about my own marriage that I had never put into words. So, thanks for this.

This severely restricts the church's ability to grow and evolve socially, we have the previous prophets who knew God too and in so doing exposes the greatest weakness to the church - accountability.